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Football success puts pressure on men’s basketball to succeed

<p>Coach Josh Pastner and the Tigers will hope to rebound from tonight's loss when they face off against Ohio State on Friday.&nbsp;</p>
Coach Josh Pastner and the Tigers will hope to rebound from tonight's loss when they face off against Ohio State on Friday. 

This is new territory for Memphis sports fans.

The Memphis Tigers are 8-1 on the football field, nationally ranked and headed to a bowl game for the second consecutive season.

But their brethren on the basketball court are coming off their worst season in two decades and then lost their best player during the summer, Austin Nichols.

The question is whether the football team’s success takes the pressure off the men’s basketball team. Or does it add more pressure on the players to succeed? It depends on whom you ask.

“The better football does, the less pressure for basketball,” men’s basketball coach Josh Pastner said. “We have been the sole financial provider for the entire athletic department and that included football. When football does well and makes money, then it takes the pressure off of our sport to be the sole provider for the entire athletic department financially.”

Pastner said the success of football coach Justin Fuente and the team means good things for the entire athletic department. He suggested Fuente be given a lifetime contract.

Also, the football success helps the University in its quest to get into one of the five big time athletic conferences such as the Big 12. While success in men’s basketball is good, the big money comes from football, which Pastner acknowledged.

“The opportunity to move into a Power Five conference is strictly based on football,” Pastner said. “That drives the bus for us to get into another conference. The better football does the better for us, for the athletic department, and for the university.”

But ask some of the players about whether football success adds pressure, and the answer is a bit different. With the football program on the rise, many fans are expecting the same from men’s basketball.

“I think the season the football team is having will have a great effect for us,” said Jake McDowell, a junior forward on the men’s team. “They will expect us to perform on the same level as the football team. And we do not expect anything less. I am excited for this year.”

Senior forward Shaq Goodwin is also confident in the team’s ability to do well this season.

“My biggest factor is being in control of what I think for the whole year,” he said. “It’s all mental. If I keep a clear head, we as a team will have that much more of an advantage.”

While the players are certain the success on the football field will help them, some fans say it might mean the passion for basketball is waning in a city where basketball has always been king.

“Of course I am hoping for the best, but the basketball team is under a lot of pressure to do well especially after a great football season,” junior finance major Mariah Marlowe said. “Last season wasn’t the best for them, so I think a lot of people are worried for this year.”

The men’s basketball team finished 18-14 last year, failing to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in four years.

But Goodwin said he is determined to make his last season on the team a good one.

“My mindset for this year is to ‘embarrass the competition,’” Goodwin said. “No friends, no love – it’s barbeque or mildew for me.”

Tiger basketball coach Josh Pastner will hope to lead Memphis basketball to the NCAA Tournament this season. 

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